Maritime Laws in Houston

Water Laws

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January 22, 2017

An Overview of Houston Boating Laws

Houston Boating LawsJust like in all other counties, the enactment of Houston boating laws is reserved to the state. To enforce the regulations of the Water Safety Act, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department certified officers may stop, board, or inspect marine vessels within Houston. This overview details the major laws to be observed when operating a vessel within Houston waters.

Houston boat laws regulate both commercial motorboats and personal water-crafts. Regardless of the length, all motorized boats must be registered and bear a title. This regulation also applies to all sailboats longer than 14 feet and those with auxiliary engines. The Houston tax office is responsible for the registration and issuing of titles for trailers. Application forms for documented vessels are also available online.

On the other hand, no person is allowed to operate a personal watercraft at night or within 50 feet of other vessels except at headway speed. Operators of vessels less than 39.4 feet long are required to carry a sound producing device such as a whistle. Any vessel longer than this should have a bell on-board in addition to the whistle. Additionally, operators of personal water-crafts are prohibited from jumping recklessly to the wake of another vessel. Additionally, no person should operate a boat to create a dangerous wash or wake.

Houston law agencies require all vessels with closed compartments or double bottoms to be equipped with fire extinguishers. Only outboard boats of less than 26 feet in total length are exempted from this regulation. Houston boating laws also require motorboats exceeding 39.4 feet in length to have white lights visible at a distance not less than two miles. Boats between 40 and 60 feet long must also be installed with red and green sidelights.

It is unlawful to operate a boat within 50 feet of another vessel that bears a flag of diver down, marking an area where a person is snorkeling or scuba diving. Operators are also prohibited from operating a vessel at speeds necessary for maintaining steerage way. Additionally, Houston law enforcement agencies prohibit operators from towing a person on water skis or surfboards. However, this law is exempted to vessels used in competitions, exhibitions, aquaplanes, or ski tournaments.

Personal water-crafts and Class A through Class 3 boats must be ventilated except boats of open construction. All motorboats must also have a muffler or an exhaust water manifold. The Texas Commission of Environmental Quality requires that any boat with a marine sanitation device to have a sanitation certification, which must always be displayed. It is prohibited to possess or offer for sell any vessel with a hull identification number. Boat identification numbers must be painted well on the side of the boat in block letters, reading from left to right.

In case a boat is involved in an accident, the operator must stop and render any possible assistance provided this does not endanger his live, crew or the passengers. The operator must also issue a written document showing his name, address and boat identification number to the injured person. Failing to observe these regulations in an accident that involves death is punishable as felony. If the procedures are not followed in an accident that does not result in death or adverse bodily harm is punishable as a misdemeanor.

To ensure adherence to these regulations, the Commission on Environmental Quality adopts rules to administer boater education programs. The commission is also in charge of boater education courses and equivalency examinations. Included in the education program is information on how to clean the boat, the boat motor, trailer, fishing equipment, and all other equipment used in boating. This prevents the spread of harmful elements to aquatic fish, shellfish and plants.